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Living the dream or awakening from the nightmare: race and athletic identity

Education is often viewed as the door that leads out of poverty for many students of color. But for many African American boys and young men, the dream of becoming a professional athlete is a door that appears to be wide open. Considering the over-representation of African American athletes in revenue-producing sports in colleges, universities and at the professional ranks, it is no surprise that many African American male youth develop aspirations for, and identify with the athletic role. These aspirations may become even more focused and intense if they ascend to the level of division I college athletes. The identification with the athlete role is likely to intensify as they get closer to the goal of professional sport. Most individuals occupy multiple identities or roles in life such as sibling, student, spouse, employee, athlete, etc. Identity salience and strength depends on the importance of that role. Athletic identity has been defined as the degree to which an individual identifies with the athletic role. Few studies have examined the impact and influences of race on athletic role identification. This study explores the relationship between race and athletic identity. Division I-A African American and Caucasian American football student-athletes’ responses to the Athletic Identity Measurement Scale were analyzed (Brewer, Raalte, and Linder 1993). Results indicated that African American football student-athletes have a stronger athletic identity compared to their Caucasian American counterparts. Differences in specific items on the scale indicated that African American student-athletes were more internally focused on their sport, felt that others perceive them only as athletes, and see sport as the focal point in their lives. Differences in these items and implications of these results suggest that there is a potential impact on academic achievement and the student-athlete’s aspirations.